Lost inside the fun house mirror labyrinth of liquid neural glass, he unleashes a silent scream, trying to get himself under control. Is this the cancer, eating his brain? Is it drugs or guilt or just some game Annie is playing with him, some convoluted vengeance he’d have thought beyond her?
These young men—his sons—they do look like him. The resemblance is uncanny, and he can imagine them growing up being endlessly reminded how much they look like a father they despise. Only, he has no sons. Never has.
And he’s never seen Annie like this before. The burn scars on her throat are new, as in they weren’t there a minute ago. Her black dress is a severe slash of style, its swoop mirrored by the fall of her curtained hair. He’s inside the mirrors and they’re endless, but how deep inside the neural network has he slid? Truth is, nobody knows the secrets of this tech. Neural revolution is gobbled up globally, hacked instantly, deployed by people with zero caution and zero fucks to give, just looking for a buck.
He knows the type. Every fucking neural mirror around him reflects the same kind of person back at him.
Pain spikes in his head. A spasm hits his gut and he steps backward, feeling his body warp, and he looks up to see the furies closer than before. Ghosts, avatars, doppelgangers, lines of code—they’re all of these things. Artificial intelligence, just intelligent enough to be carved into the shape he wants. Echoes of women he’d carved into the shapes he wanted. Like this he can continue to use them, over and over.
They signed the fucking forms.
But other figures walk these halls; others are trapped in this liquid glass fun house. One of his reflections is moving. More than one, shifting, walking, struggling to be free of this lost place, caught in the web. These two aren’t him at all.
“Annie?” he says. “Are you seeing this?”
That spasm hits his gut again. The liquid walls shift and he feels himself in motion, feels resistance, as if he’s being pushed out through some kind of tangible, invisible, liquid neural cervix. He stumbles, falls to one knee, and looks up.
“I’m not alone in here,” he says.
Your brain is slipping. Perception unraveling, Annie’s voice replies inside his mind. We’ve talked about this. Of course you’re not alone. All your sins are in there with you, wearing the faces you gave them.
He growls. Spins around, now trying to see out through the strangely misted glass. “Enough with the melodrama.”
You chose to die today, to let the global net watch you do it, and I’m the melodramatic one?
Right. His final performance, the moment of his death and dissolution. Whatever game Annie might be playing, the performance is the only thing that matters. He’s given her the director’s chair. If she wants to use that to torment him, to try to break his mind, how can he deny her that pleasure and privilege? After everything?
He takes a breath to steady himself, and pushes his hands through the yielding membrane of the glass world. Its warm softness is a comfort. Until he sees those other flailing images of himself, the non-reflections. There are furies in the distance that are not focused on him, and his brain seems to absorb something from the neural mesh, the liquid world around him.
His sons who aren’t his sons.
His Annie who isn’t his Annie.
His self who isn’t himself.
His furies reach him, each pushing through the mirror walls with a kind of sigh, an erotic sound he has heard from them all before, or perhaps it is a sigh of pain—he’s heard those noises before too.
He twists, lunges away from them and into the hands of his Annie, this avatar he created as a memento, a souvenir of the things she surrendered to his privilege.
With a shout, he attacks her, punching her throat, pushing away from her.
Why are you fighting? Annie asks in his head. This is the show you wanted to give the world. Or did you think they would be content to watch you lie there while the cancer rotted your insides?
She’s right. Every word. He could tell himself he was fighting to give the audience a better show, using his director’s instincts, but he would be lying. He had intended something intimate, some grotesquerie, maybe a slow bloodletting waltz.
Long fingers claw his flesh.
The choice of death has been taken from him. The performance is no longer his. He had beauty in mind, submission, consent to pain and finality, but he has not consented to this.
Harpies. Furies. Valkyries, they are on him.
And then they begin screaming, shrieking. They twist away from him.
What’s going on in there? Annie shouts inside his skull, which doesn’t make sense, because she is the director. She is in control. If she is not in control, then it must be the other Annie, the one in that parallel place where she is all black...